Indy Film Talk: Friday Night Frights at the Strand 

Like many members of Indiana's healthy horror community, Branden Yates is nostalgic for the golden age of horror — the days of double features, drive-in screenings and midnight movie magic. Since he started volunteering at the Strand Theatre three years ago, he has been trying to resurrect old-school horror. Now he heads up the programming schedule for the theater's weekly event, Friday Night Frights. 

NUVO: Let's start from the very beginning. How did you fall in love with horror? What draws you to the dark side? 

Yates: I think my love affair with horror began when it was brought to my attention as a child that I wasn’t allowed to see it. In those vulnerable times, we always want to see and do things that we are told we can’t.

I basically nagged my aunt about watching her VHS tapes until she finally said I could — as long as I didn't have bad dreams and as long as I understood that what happens in movies is make-believe.

As I grew older, I grew to love horror more and more when I started understanding more about the F/X and the writing. I love anything with a thought-provoking narrative. I love to see the light in all the darkness, as horror-meister Clive Barker would say.

NUVO: Tell me about Friday Night Frights. How did you become involved with that?
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Yates: Friday Night Frights was originally an idea put together by The Strand Theatre as a throwback to the double feature. It started out very small and showed mostly older black-and-white public domain titles. 

I was excited to see a film called Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, but because it was such an older picture, I couldn't get anyone to go along with me, so I went by myself, and upon showing up, the Strand welcomed me in.

I took my seat only to notice there was nobody else there. Finally, it turned into showtime and instead of getting onstage with a mic and doing the introduction as they normally do, the Strand folks just walked out in front of me, introduced themselves and basically told me I was the only one who showed up but not to be worried — the show must go on!

I watched the movie with their volunteers, and that was the night I decided I would help with the event from then on and try to get more butts in the seats.

NUVO: It seems like a twist of fate that you were the only one in the audience. You were in the right place at the right time. That night led to a lot of exciting opportunities.

Yates: It opened the doorway for me to volunteer at a lot of other events at the Strand while learning the ropes of film rights and theatrical viewing privileges. 

Early on, I wasn’t really sure what we could do with Friday Night Frights, so I just went after variety. I figured, rather than have a personal bias, why not listen to people? So, to this day, I take requests seriously.

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I guess at first, I went after the cult classics — They Live, Sleepaway Camp, The Shining, Spider Baby. Those were the first big pictures I had shown my first year. Of course, the Strand had to license those from studios, which cost money. So, I paired them alongside older public domain stuff that I felt had some charm. You’re kind of limited within the realm of public domain though.

I remember the first Friday Night Frights I ever hosted, I said, 'Wouldn't it be awesome if we could show Gremlins at Christmas time?'

Closer to the end of the year, around early October, the Strand told me they wanted to show two Christmas movies — Elf one week and then the next week, my choice, and it could be a horror movie if it suited the holiday. I immediately said, 'How much would it cost to show Gremlins?' So, they contacted Warner Bros, and surprised me by saying 'We also licensed Gremlins 2, so you can show them back to back!'

I had picked Gremlins because it’s about the best film to expose kids to horror without mortifying them or angering parents. We had 133 people show up! And at least three-fourths of them were kids! It was wonderful. It was also awesome that so many people either had never seen Gremlins 2 or had totally forgotten about its wacky fun.

Something cool that I also did that first year was having an Indiana Film Tribute night, which saw us screening Beverly Lane and Found together. That also had a great turnout, around 80 people, and that was really the night that I decided we needed to show more indie film.

NUVO: Speaking of showing indie films, let’s talk about your experiences with local filmmakers.

After attending horror conventions and covering local filmmakers for NUVO, I've noticed that Indiana has quite a healthy horror community making throwback films that honor horrors past.

Close to Halloween last year, I interviewed local director Terence Muncy, who showed his zombie film, Hell Walks the Earth at the Skyline Drive-In on Oct. 2 — the same night its inspiration, Night of the Living Dead, made its drive-in debut 46 years before.

What is your connection like with local horror filmmakers and fans?

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Yates: I like to keep a good relationship with as many filmmakers as I can, especially ones from Indiana. 

Nearly every convention I go to, I make it a point to introduce myself to every filmmaker I can, including the masters of horror.  

Especially since I have made it a point of showing indie films at Friday Night Frights, it’s as if I am in better relationships with filmmakers because I am a true believer of sorts.

NUVO: What’s coming up for Friday Night Frights this month and beyond?

Yates: This year we are strictly focusing on showing indie films, with the occasional classic thrown in as a surprise. So, basically, the die-hard Friday Night Frights fans will have the opportunity to see a classic picture that is randomly shown as the third feature. We have decided to announce ahead of time what event will have the mystery third feature but the only way of knowing what that feature to be in your seat when we start it. That’s evil, I know, but I feel showing the bigger pictures is more like a reward, even though I feel like finding new, quality horror films is an even greater reward. I always reassure people that good horror films are out there, dying to be discovered. So what we do is a great way to be around like-minded horror fans and experience them in the best possible way — the theater — for a very low price. Two films for five bucks, c'mon!

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